DANCE

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DBEFORE AU­DI­ENCES

en­tered the theatre for Ju­lianne Chap­ple’s eerie new work about hu­mans and tech­nol­ogy, an in­struc­tional video might have made them feel like they were about to go into the iso­lated re­search es­tate in Ex Machina.

A dig­i­tally gen­er­ated woman’s voice gave direc­tions about where to sit or stand, with 3-D an­i­mated graph­ics of the theatre space in­ter­spliced omi­nously with X-ray im­agery.

View­ers then flowed into the Faris Fam­ily Stu­dio theatre, which had been stripped of its seats, set­tling around a clin­i­cal-white cen­tral square lit on each cor­ner by a cold, tow­er­ing rod of LED light. At the far end, on five plinths, glowed trans­par­ent fa­cial moulds, DNA sam­ples, and den­tal im­pres­sions of each per­former.

In the cen­tre of the space, dancers were al­ready mov­ing or sprawled on the floor. One was rolling around with a big metal ball that had been pol­ished to the clean sheen of a stain­less-steel sur­gi­cal tray.

Artist-col­lab­o­ra­tor Ed Spence had cre­ated sev­eral such metal struc­tures for the dancers to in­ter­act with. They made for some unique ki­netic ex­plo­ration—one was a rounded cage that a per­former could en­ter and roll around in, an­other a long rod a dancer could turn about her shoul­ders and neck. To­gether, they sym­bol­ized, in a beau­ti­fully ab­stract way, our ev­er­grow­ing at­tach­ment to tech­nol­ogy. The shapes were honed into er­gonomic forms, giv­ing the feel of Ap­ple by way of David Cro­nen­berg.

But what Chap­ple—who has launched the city’s new­est dance com­pany, Fu­ture Leisure—ex­cels at is cre­at­ing sur­real im­agery. We’ve seen it be­fore in her shorter works on mixed bills like Small Stage, but with Suf­fix, she cre­ated a strange mood in a more im­mer­sive way. She turned the Faris into some kind of gi­ant, haunt­ing lab­o­ra­tory-gallery, with its hard light and the eerie elec­tro drone of the score by the Wolves & the Blood.

There, strug­gling hu­man forms found their phys­i­cal­ity with big metal im­ple­ments. Some of the geo­met­ric props of­fered more suc­cess­ful move­ment ex­plo­ration than oth­ers; Max­ine Chad­burn had a flow­ing duet with the ball where it be­came a liv­ing part­ner as she slid around it as it rolled.

Through­out, Chap­ple paced the perime­ter, flick­ing lights on and off, some­times step­ping in to move Spence’s beau­ti­ful but sin­is­ter sculp­tures.

It all cul­mi­nated in a spooky bathing rit­ual that gave way to an un­ex­pect­edly mov­ing se­quence. The dancers washed and donned trans­par­ent masks, like they were ready to en­ter some tran­shu­man state. Then Chad­burn climbed into a coffin­sized box at the back of the “stage”. It was lit and opened to­ward the au­di­ence, and her image was re­peated to in­fin­ity by some bril­liant trick of the mir­rors in­side it. Chad­burn had a last hu­man break­down, all her real emo­tions bub­bling to the sur­face be­fore she handed her­self over to… What? Cryo­genic freez­ing? The down­load­ing of her brain?

With Suf­fix, Chap­ple has as­serted her­self as a unique voice on the dance scene—and some­one un­afraid to go to dark places.

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